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TOURISM

‘A European exception’: How tourists are flocking back to France after Covid

France is looking forward to a strong summer for tourism as homegrown holidaymaker numbers are boosted by the return of international travellers after two years of Covid-19.

'A European exception': How tourists are flocking back to France after Covid
Visitors queue to enter the Louvre Museum, in Paris on April 29, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

In February, revenue from international tourism in France “came close to those of 2019”, according to tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

At €2.7 billion, revenues for the month were up €1.5 billion compared to last year – still down eight percent compared to 2019, before the pandemic, when France’s tourism sector represented 7.4 percent of GDP and 9.5 percent of jobs.

According to Lemoyne, France is “very well positioned” as the “number one destination for travel in Europe for Americans, Belgians, Italians and Spaniards”.

The French, for their part, are “a European exception”, the minister said, pointing out that 60 percent plan to remain in their own country over the holidays.

“With a domestic base that will remain very strong and the return of international customers, this means that we are in for a summer season that can be very, very dynamic,” he said.

But Didier Arino, director of the Protourisme consultancy, warned there could be trouble ahead.

“It is not the market that is going to be problematic, it is the cost of production of tourist stays, competitiveness, the suitability between the prices of products and purchasing power,” he said.

“The players are all increasing their prices, and right now it is going well because people want to enjoy themselves. But we are reaching the limit of what is acceptable for many customers.”

Globally, international tourist arrivals worldwide have more than doubled, up 130 percent in January 2022 on the same period last year, according to the latest UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) figures. 

In Europe, tourists are heading to France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Iceland, but still not in the same numbers as before Covid.

Worldwide, there have been 18 million additional visitors, the UNWTO said, “equivalent to the total increase recorded over the whole of 2021”.

In 2019, global tourism revenues reached $1.48 trillion. That figure dropped by almost two thirds due to the pandemic the following year.

But UNWTO also highlighted how the Omicron Covid variant put the brakes on the rise, with international arrivals in January 2022 still 67 percent lower than before the pandemic.

Larry Cuculic, general manager of the Best Western hotel company, is optimistic. “I travelled earlier this week and I can tell you that the airports, the international terminals in the US are very crowded and there is a demand or an interest in travelling to Europe, because for several years we couldn’t do that,” he told AFP. “We miss going to Paris, Rome and Berlin.”

Travel by Chinese tourists, the world’s biggest spenders before the pandemic, is also severely affected by China’s zero-Covid policy. But travel analyst ForwardKeys has indicated that the second quarter of 2022 still looks “more promising for international travel in the world than the first quarter”.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘Arrive early’: Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

Europe's airports chief told passengers to leave time for delays this summer as the air travel industry struggles to meet surging demand after the pandemic.

'Arrive early': Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

“The clear conjunction of a much quicker recovery with a very tight labour market is creating a lot of problems,” Olivier Jankovec, head of the Europe branch of the Airports Council International (ACI), told AFP.

He said there were issues from airports to airlines, ground handlers, police and border controls, but insisted: “The system still works”.

READ ALSO: Budget airline passengers in Europe face travel headaches as more strikes called

“It’s important for passengers that they communicate with the airlines in terms of when they should get to the airport, and prepare to come earlier than usual to make sure to have the time to go through, especially if they have to check luggage,” he said.

Strikes by low-cost pilots and cabin crew across Europe – including this weekend – are adding to the disruption.

Speaking at the ACI Europe annual congress in Rome, Jankovec said airports had taken measures to improve the situation, which would come into effect from mid-July.

“Additional staff will be coming in July, the reconfiguration of some of the facilities and infrastructure to facilitate the flows will also come into effect in July,” he said.

“I think it will be tight, there will be some disruptions, there will be longer waiting times.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

“But I think that in the vast majority of airports, the traffic will go, people will not miss their planes, and hopefully everybody will be able to reach their destination as planned.”

He also defended increases in airport charges, after criticism from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents airlines.

Airports face “the same difficulties and inflationary pressures” as airlines, which he noted were putting their fares up, he said.

“Staff and energy is 45 percent of our operating costs, and of course inflation is also driving up the cost of materials,” he said.

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